Jim Beatty: On "A Colossal American Copulation"
I’d like to respond to John Marsh’s comments on “A Colossal American Copulation”. While I admire and would echo most of what John says about the poem, one point merits more discussion. In the course of his analysis, Marsh parenthetically remarks: “Perhaps it's too generous to explain away those critiques we might have more trouble cheering on (its possible backhanded racism-"Fuck every gangbanger in America"-and misogyny ("Fuck...That first pussy I ever touched.") by arguing that even the speaker has been corrupted by that which he so doggedly critiques.”
While I agree that simply celebrating Louis’s irreverent rejection of the US dominant culture would too easily elide some disturbing moments in the poem, I think that the comments Marsh quotes need to be more broadly contextualized. With respect to Louis’s derision of “gangbangers,” it should be remembered that those who we would identify–and who would identify themselves–under this moniker fall under nearly every conceivable racial category. Additionally, Louis follows up this statement by saying “Fuck furiously the drive-by shooters.” Here he is not just objecting to an oversimplified vision of a cultural identity–he is lamenting an all-too-real material practice of those who would call themselves by the name he attacks. Thus in saying “Fuck every gangbanger in America,” Louis is rejecting a commodified posture of rebellion that markets intra- and inter-racial violence to urban refugees of every color–be it African Americans or Latina/os in major urban centers or white kids in Oklahoma or even American Indians on the reservation. Rather than a racist dismissal of an ethnic counter-culture, Louis’s comment may well be a critique of how the commodified version of that counter-culture is deployed to mis-direct the legitimate rage of the oppressedclasses of all races in the US.
Another aspect of a broader context in which to consider some of the poem's more disturbing lines lies in Louis’s self-representation of his poetic project: “Well, the overall theme in my work is personal survival. I'm writing about my life. I guess deep down I sort of fancy myself as speaking for certain kinds of people who don't have a voicefor the downtrodden.” In enunciating the terms of “personal survival,” Louis is trying to come to terms with a postmodern barrage of (largely media-generated) images and phenomenon. Additionally, Ullman comments that Louis speaks as both an observer and a prime example of a condition, as both the accuser and the accused.” In this light, I read his rejection of “That first pussy I ever touched” as regret rather than hatred. I’ll agree that this regret is somewhat trivialized in being paralleled to a regret for “That first cigarette I ever smoked,” yet both do point to specific,often thoughtless adolescent actions that can have long-lasting physical, psychological, and symbolic effects–effects that Louis needs to symbolically reject along with everything else. Finally, Louis follows these two lines with the comic “Fuck it again, Sam,” moving past a simplistic nostalgia embodied in the line he re-writes from _Casablanca_, denying a longing for that first cigarette or first sexual experience–that one that all subsequent experiences in either respect will never equal–as well as a destructive infinite regret.
Finally, Louis undercuts the moral force of any item in his long list of “fuck you”s. He does this with obviously playful lines like “Fuck a duck,” a curse I’ve never heard spoken in anything but a lighthearted, albeit resigned, tone. Additionally, Louis startles the reader by including “Mother Teresa” in his list of “fuck you”s. He follows this up with an immediate response to his readers’ reactions by saying “Jesus, just kidding.” I find this to be the most disturbing line in the poem. Yet Louis insists that, at the very least, there is a line between what he is seriously rejecting and what he implicitly values. This line alone undercuts a critique that the poem is simply a reactionary rejection of everything with nothing positive to offer. While the playful and the scathing often overlap in the poem (e.g. the hilarious “Fuck . . . Sam Donaldson’s wig”), Louis deftly deflects, for the careful, sympathetic reader (i.e. one that won’t stop reading at the first “Fuck”) any sort of moral outrage the poem might occasion. In the nihilistic glee of his flipping off the US, we have critique, lament, and paradoxically celebration complexly inter-woven.
|Title||Jim Beatty: On "A Colossal American Copulation"||Type of Content||Criticism|
|Criticism Author||Jim Beatty||Criticism Target||Adrian C. Louis|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||04 Jun 2020|
|Publication Status||Original Criticism||Publication||No Data|
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